Trump and Latin American Energy

The Costs of Cutting Ties

Solar panels in the Brazilian state of Amazonas, September 2015. Bruno Kelly / REUTERS

The United States’ reliance on Middle Eastern oil and the carbon emissions produced by the surging demand for fossil fuels in Asia tend to dominate discussions about the role of energy in U.S. foreign policy. But in recent years, the energy relationship between the United States and Latin America has perhaps become more important than either of those issues, as the largest share of the United States’ international trade and investment in the energy sector has occurred within the Western Hemisphere.

The energy markets of the Americas are deeply integrated. Despite the shale boom, which led to a sharp increase in U.S. oil production and a drop in imports, the United States still relies on Latin America for more than 30 percent of the oil it buys from abroad. For governments in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Venezuela, meanwhile, oil exports to the United States provide a critical source of revenue. And Latin America is a growing importer of U.S. natural gas and the largest market for U.S.-made refined petroleum products, such as gasoline.

American oil companies and utilities are big investors in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, helping to develop the energy resources of all those countries. In Brazil, the United States’ direct investment in oil and gas extraction reached $2.4 billion in 2015; in Mexico, the figure was $420 million. Washington’s financing and technical cooperation programs have further helped the development of new energy resources in the region. U.S. institutions and funds back clean energy investments and provide regulatory and technical guidance to tap the region’s shale fields. 

The presidency of Donald Trump appears set to threaten this interdependence. Trump has vowed to curtail U.S. overseas investment in order to bring jobs back to the country, slap tariffs on imports, roll back energy sector regulations, and renege on Washington’s international climate change commitments. The president’s specific plans in these areas remain hazy, and the U.S. Congress, local courts, businesses, and perhaps some

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